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  • Helen

Spare Thoughts

Among our non-UK friends, British attitudes to the House of Windsor are a source of some surprise, even mockery. We love ‘the royals’, we hate them, they fascinate us, they infuriate us – but recent statistics show that still only a minority of Brits want them replaced with a republic! Royal entertainment value is high and we’ve had another episode this week.

After watching the interview with the Duke of Sussex about his new book ‘Spare’, views have been exchanged with our children – one is supportive and one less so. I find myself undecided. I’ve written so many ‘royal’ blogs in my head this week! Here are just a couple of views!

My ’therapeutic self’ has some sympathy with Harry. The British tradition of the stiff upper lip in response to the trauma and mental ill-health in his life and the two generations before him provided a toxic legacy. He arrived in a family where emotional intelligence seems to have been in short supply and late in being developed. In so many ways he was a poor little rich boy.

The title of his book, Spare, says it all. Harry has grown up feeling superfluous to requirements in his family. The focus of the family’s attention is the survival of the institution on which they all depend. So the success and formation of his brother, William, has always to be central. Clearly Harry has learned to carve out a role for himself. He has begun it with the help of a therapist, a wife, a ghost-writer and a publicity operation most institutions only dream about . His expressly wishes to help his ‘large dysfunctional ancient family’ to change. My own view is that, however desperate things are, families don’t change by having their laundry washed in public!

Crusading, messianic tendencies frequently arise in people who feel they don’t matter. Harry’s second ‘mission’ is ‘to change the landscape in the British media’. And here I find myself less sympathetic! Not because journalists have not been guilty of some horrendous crimes in the first two decades of the 21st century. And not because I condone many media methods. The employment of private investigators to hack phones is entirely reprehensible. But the journalist in me always bristles when people attack ‘the media’ – as if there were not at least three groups of people responsible for the media we consume.

Anyone who has thought in any detail about ‘the media’ as Harry claims to have done, knows that the first two groups - journalists and communication czars exist in highly complex symbiotic relationships where – crucially - the terms are never precisely spelled out.

But there’s another ‘invisible’ group whom people in anti-media debates never mention – largely, I suspect, because doing so would alienate their readers and listeners. That other vital group is the media consumers. And that means ‘us’ – you and me. In the unlikely event that we didn’t gobble up the media so eagerly, the whole pyramid would tumble.

The hunger for the ‘good story’ is an element of human nature – mine and yours. Can Harry’s ‘lifework’, as he described it, destroy people’s curiosity about each other -especially the rich and famous? Can he offer alternative ways of satiating human hunger for entertaining stories? Unless he can do both these things, his self-declared ‘mission to change the media landscape in the UK’ will fail. Harry will have left the tyranny of the institutional monarchy to struggle quixotically against a new tyranny - his own over-simplified and messianic attitudes to media.

I keep coming back to is a six-word quotation from that unlikely philosopher, Russell Brand. I keep it posted on my kitchen cupboard door to remind me of the dangers of over-simplification . ‘Tyranny,’ it says, ‘is the lack of nuance’.

PS Let’s avoid the Daily Mail and the tabloid fraternity in whichever country we find ourselves!

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